After trading Emmanuel Rivera for Arizona reliever Luke Weaver on Monday, the Royals front office was relatively quiet on Tuesday’s Deadline day until swinging a last-minute pair of trades right before the 5 p.m. cutoff.
The bigger of the two Royals trades centered on two-time All Star Whit Merrifield, who was traded to the most ironic destination possible: Toronto.
Remember, Merrifield could not play against the Blue Jays in the four-game series in Toronto before the All-Star break due to his vaccination status. The national attention from Whit being unvaccinated definitely changed the dynamic between Whit and the front office leading up to August 2nd’s deadline. The front office was very vocal about their “disappointment” with Whit’s actions, especially in regard to how he communicated to the media that he would consider getting “vaccinated” for a contender.
Thus, it seemed like a sure deal that Whit would be out of Kansas City by the deadline. However, him getting traded to a team where he now “has” to get vaccinated (in order to play home games) seems like a bit of poetic justice after he seemed to care more about his own “beliefs” than the Royals team.
Whit was not the only Royals player though to be traded near the 5 p.m. deadline.
After the hoopla of the Merrifield trade died down a little bit, it was also announced that the Royals traded backup catcher Cam Gallagher (who also was one of the ten unvaccinated Royals players) to San Diego for outfielder Brent Rooker, who has spent most of the year in the Padres’ Triple-A organization.
Even though there were rumors about relievers Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont; starter Brad Keller; and outfielder Michael A. Taylor, Kansas City elected to keep those hot commodities on the Royals roster for the remainder of the season.
From today’s conversation on 610 AM’s Cody and Gold, with Royals GM JJ Picollo, it sounded like the Royals weren’t impressed with the offers for that group of players. Hence, they didn’t feel the rush to trade them, especially considering they still all had some years left of team control.
Now that the Trade Deadline has officially passed, and the Royals roster seems at least “somewhat” set for the remainder of the 2022 season (who knows about possible demotions or injuries), how did the Royals do return-wise and setting themselves up for 2023 and beyond?
In this post, I rank each Royals trade made over the past month and a half, starting with the Carlos Santana trade to the Mariners at the end of June. I basically rank each trade by not only prospect return, but how much of an impact that trade made on the Royals’ current roster in either a positive or negative way as well.
Let’s take a look at how each of the eight Royals in-season trades fared this year, based on my rankings.
1. Whit Merrifield to Toronto for Samad Taylor and Max Castillo
There was no question that trading Whit Merrifield by the deadline was an absolute must for this Royals organization, especially after his comments in the wake of him being put on the restricted list prior to the Toronto series.
It was obvious by his response about “getting vaccinated for a contender” that Whit had wanted out of Kansas City for quite some time. In addition, it seemed like those frustrations had also seeped into the clubhouse, which is not a good thing for a team with a lot of young up-and-coming players.
Even in his last game with the Royals, where he hit the eventual game-winning home run, there was an awkwardness in his postgame interview with Joel Goldberg. Nicky Lopez and Bobby Witt, Jr. tried to splash him with water, and he seemed annoyed with it, like an ex-spouse interacting with their former loved one. And if that was just what Royals fans could see on the surface level, it’s easy to imagine what that dynamic looked like in the clubhouse behind closed doors.
Therefore, the return did not matter as much as the action. Thankfully, Picollo did the right thing and traded Whit away, even if it was a weird destination considering Whit’s vaccination status (and it is only getting weirder with reports about his decision to be vaccinated even AFTER the trade getting hazier).
That being said, for a player who seemed like a “shoe-in” to be traded at the Deadline (which probably deflated his value), the Royals seemed to get a decent return from the Blue Jays. Both Taylor and Castillo are players who could impact the Royals partially in 2022, and on a bigger basis in 2023.
Taylor is a classic “Royals prospect” in the sense that he’s athletic and toolsy, but he strikes out a lot and could underperform at the Major League level. Taylor is only hitting .258 in Triple-A this year, but he has a tremendous speed-power profile, as he hit 16 home runs and stole 30 bases in 87 games in 2021 in Double-A.
Here’s a glimpse of what Taylor can provide with the bat.
As for Castillo, he actually has some MLB experience, as he is posting a 3.05 ERA in 20.2 IP this season (he also made a start against the Royals in Toronto against a short-handed Royals squad). The FIP (4.42) suggests he’s been more lucky than good, but he is posting a 4.00 K/BB ratio and has a history of producing solid K/BB ratios in the minors as well. Castillo has a good fastball, changeup, and slider trio, and here’s an example of him utilizing that arsenal effectively in the Minors this season.
Getting rid of Whit was a win in itself for the Royals.
But getting two prospects who could make an impact real soon only sweetens the deal even more. Without a doubt, this trade stands out as the best from the Royals front office in 2022.
2. No. 35 Pick to Atlanta for Drew Waters, Andrew Hoffmann, and CJ Alexander
The Royals nabbed the Braves’ former No. 1 prospect, who has struggled mightily in Triple-A the past two years. With Michael Harris II thriving in center field, the Braves were looking for a suitor for Waters, and the Royals pounced, while also getting pitcher Andrew Hoffmann and third baseman CJ Alexander in the package.
Waters, on the other hand, the real prize of the deal, has seen a revitalization at the plate in Omaha. He is hitting .317 with four home runs and nine stolen bases in only 16 games. And that’s not even including what he’s done on Wednesday night.
If the Royals do trade Michael A. Taylor this offseason, it will be because the Royals think Waters can take over as the Opening Day CF in 2023. And that’s an exciting possibility to think about as a Royals fan.
3. Andrew Benintendi to the Yankees for T.J. Sikkema, Beck Way, and Chandler Champlain
The Royals did not get any Top 10 prospects from the Royals, but they got an impressive haul of projectable arms who could have an impact on the Royals rotation or bullpen late in 2023 or early in 2024. Considering the Royals need arms, getting three pitchers who could stock their pitching staffs in Northwest Arkansas and Quad Cities was a much-needed priority this “hot stove” season.
Way’s debut with the Quad Cities River Bandits was less-than-impressive, as he allowed five runs on five hits and three walks in 4.2 IP. But he did strike out six and he does possess an intriguing breaking ball that could get better in 2023.
Sikkema could be the real prize of the deal, as he is a former first-round pick out of Mizzou whose stock has dropped due to TJ surgery recovery in 2021. Sikkema made his debut in Northwest Arkansas (his first Double-A start) on Wednesday, and the early reports were pretty encouraging.
Expectations were high among Royals fans when it came to a Benintendi deal, and the lack of a Top 10 prospect from the Yankees seemed to sour some of the Royals faithful. However, for a rental, a trio of pitching prospects with some decent upside isn’t a bad return, especially considering the Yankees’ success with developing pitchers.
Hopefully, that success carries over with these three to the Royals system, even if Kansas City’s pitching development is a lot more suspect.
4. Carlos Santana to the Mariners for Wyatt Mills and William Fleming
Mills has settled into his role as a cleanup sidearmer who can do well against right-handed hitters. His 6.17 ERA leaves a bit to be desired, but he’s striking out 11.57 batters per nine innings with the Royals, which is 5.34 higher than his mark with the Mariners earlier this year. Furthermore, his 3.72 FIP suggests that Mills has been better with the Royals than his high ERA indicates. The Royals seem to believe in Mills enough, as they opted to demote Jose Cuas, not Mills when they added Luke Weaver to the active roster.
Like many new Royals pitchers who have arrived in the Royals’ Minor League system this year, Fleming has struggled, as he is posting a 6.38 ERA in five outings. Fleming may ultimately be a reliever, but it will be interesting to see if the Royals will continue to develop him as a starter in 2023.
Ultimately though, what mattered with the Santana trade was less about the package and more about opening up a path for Vinnie Pasquantino, who’s been a mainstay in the 3 and 4 spots in the lineup since being called up from Omaha.
5. Emmanuel Rivera to Arizona for Luke Weaver
I wrote more about this in an extensive post on Monday, but to me, this trade was a win-win for both sides. The Diamondbacks get a guy who could be a platoon masher in the hitter-friendly Chase Field. The Royals get a reliever who brings much-needed control to a bullpen that struggles to limit walks.
Yes, Rivera has more years of team control than Weaver (Weaver becomes a free agent after next year). That being said, it is also likely that Rivera would have been DFA’d this Winter in order to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, which is expected to carry on next year after not happening for the past two seasons.
6. Cam Gallagher to San Diego for Brent Rooker
This was a deal that got lost in the Whit circus but is actually an intriguing deal.
Gallagher gives the Padres some much-needed catching depth. As for the Royals, they get a masher who was posting a 137 wRC+ in Triple-A this year and also hit nine home runs in 58 games with the Twins in 2021.
Rooker is a bit of a whiffer, as he struck out 32.9 percent of the time with the Twins last year and was still striking out 28.9 percent of the time in Triple-A this year. However, his power potential is pretty potent and could get better if he makes the proper adjustments in Omaha this year with Drew Saylor and his team.
Rooker may ultimately be a Four-A player. And yet, I am good with the Royals taking a risk on him, especially in exchange for a catcher who may not be in the Royals’ plans long-term with Salvy and Melendez on the roster.
7. Cash Considerations to Seattle for Anthony Misiewicz
This was a subtle move to boost the Royals bullpen that got lost in the Trade Deadline shuffle.
In the past three seasons, in 104 games and 88.1 IP with the Mariners, Misiewicz has generated a career 4.48 ERA and 3.19 K/BB ratio. However, this year has been more of a struggle, as he is posting a 4.61 ERA and a K/BB ratio of only 1.33 in 17 appearances and 13.2 IP. He also is allowing a barrel rate of 9.3 percent, which is currently a career-high.
On the other hand, the Royals lack left-handed relievers beyond Amir Garrett, who has been a “wild child” this season in Kansas City in terms of walks allowed (20.3 percent BB rate) and behavior, which was on display last night with rowdy White Sox fans at Guaranteed Rate Field:
If Misiewicz can harness that control again and boost his K’s a bit in Omaha, he could be called up and give the Royals some decent left-handed relief help in the bullpen down the stretch, which they have sorely lacked this season.
8. Foster Griffin to Toronto for Jonatan Bernal
The former first-round pick made his way back to the Majors after missing most of 2020 and 2021 due to Tommy John surgery recovery. Griffin was never going to be more than a middle-innings reliever in Kansas City, especially post-Tommy John. On the other hand, he showed signs of progress as a reliever when he recovered last season in Northwest Arkansas and in Omaha this year.
In 28.1 IP this year, Griffin posted a 1.93 ERA with the Storm Chasers which included a 5.33 K/BB ratio. It was more of a struggle for him at the Majors in 2022, as he walked (8.31 BB/9) more batters than he struck out (4.15 K/9) in five appearances with the Royals this year. However, he showed potential at times, and one has to wonder what he could be with better pitching tutelage.
The Royals designated Griffin for assignment on July 11th in order to activate Daniel Lynch off the IL. Three days later, they ended up trading him to Toronto for Bernal, who’s currently 20 years old and posting a 5.40 ERA in Low-A Columbia as a reliever.
Safe to say, it’s hard to see Bernal even matching Griffin’s Minor League outlook, let alone having an MLB future (unless something dramatic happens in the organization pitching development-wise this offseason).
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